14 things I learned in 2014

The New Year is here and list-fever is upon us, so I’ll try to keep this light. In any case, I have a reason to celebrate as today Gen C Traveller celebrates its first anniversary; as a consultancy business and as an educational industry blog. So I’d like to start by thanking all my clients for working with me for this past year, and of course all my followers for their interest in this site.

Without doubt I’ve had a thoroughly enjoyable and educational year. However if you had asked me just six monthBirthday Cupcake With Lit Candles before I set up my company if I could imagine working for myself, negotiating contracts, seeking partners and doing all the admin I’d have surely said ‘no’, believing that relying on the comfortable (if predictable) rhythm of office life was the only viable format for developing one’s career and assuring personal wellbeing.

However one of the signs of the times that we live in (and certainly for those of my generation) is that circumstances can change. It turns out I’m not the only one that has discovered this. In fact, the notion that jobs don’t last forever and that self-reliance is becoming essential to survival is are themes that have cropped up constantly as I have researched the lifestyles, consumer habits and attitudes of the Millennial generation. It’s one of the major factors that is making my generation so restless, disruptive and unwilling to take the status quo for granted.

One year’s work as a consultant on Millennial travel trends has taken me to fourteen countries, including Australia, Thailand, Macau and Japan,  brought me ten great clients (all of them international brands and leaders in their field) and, in the process taught me more about the subject I enjoy than I could ever have learned while working under the constraints of one single organisation. All this has given me valuable knowledge that I do my best to share with the people I work with. An added bonus is that this way of working has brought me into contact with many warm-hearted, talented professionals who I may never otherwise have met.

So, based on all the above, please allow me to share the 14 things that I learned from my work and travel in 2014:

1. Nine to five, Monday to Friday isn’t the only way of working

I’m not talking about those who work nights, long shifts or outside of standard office hours (though I have learned to respect them more, counting myself lucky that I’m not obliged to work that way). I’m talking about working inside and outside an office environment. Having worked inside and outside such an environment has taught me a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of each way of working.
I totally understand those who say that they need the structure and discipline that office life brings them. Being employed (especially if it’s in a country with good labour laws and social benefits) can bring you holiday pay, sick leave, maternity pay and regular pension payments, all of which (apart from maternity pay) that I have to work out for myself. It’s also true that solo working isn’t for everybody and being surrounded by colleagues can, provided they are decent folk, bring you much inspiration, knowledge and support when you need it. On the other hand, they can also drag you into unnecessary meetings, office politics and dead-end projects too, all of which you are generally liberated from if you work for yourself, giving you the freedom to learn new things and work on the areas that really interest you. Throughout this year it’s been good to meet many people who work in all kinds of sectors who have decided to ‘go it alone’. Incidentally, in November I discovered this author’s thought-provoking take on what the 40-hour week is really for.

2. “I get so much more done when I work from home”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this from friends and industry colleagues. ‘It allows me to focus on what I’m doing, making me more productive’ is usually the main reason they give for wanting to work from home, and I know that they mean it. Working from home certainly doesn’t mean laying round in your pyjamas all day (at least not for me, anyway). I believe that this year I have worked more hours, more intensely than any year in the past.  That’s not always easy because working in the comfort of your home can definitely be a major distraction; the dishwasher needs to be emptied, the rubbish needs taking out, something needs fixing (see no.3 for my solution to that). But this style of working can provide the flexibility to allow you to lead a healthier life, care properly for those you love and give you greater mental focus to ensure work is done better.

3. Go out!

Working for yourself certainly doesn’t have to mean working alone. With coffee, Wi-Fi and reasonably calm

Amsterdam's main library is an amazing building and somewhere I actually look forward to going to get work done

Amsterdam’s main library is an amazing building and somewhere I actually look forward to going to get work done

surroundings it’s amazing how much you can get done. The psychological impact of being surrounded by other people doing the same as you is considerable, and I’m fortunate to live in Amsterdam where work spaces (free or rentable) are in abundance.

4. Millennials really are shaking up the status quo

Young people have always rebelled against the conditions imposed on them by their elders but this generation (currently aged 18-34) is crucially different. I’ve covered this theme a lot on my website this year so I’ll leave you to read on, but Millennials are giving much for government, business and civil society to worry about and give hope in equal measure.

5. ‘A third of Millennials have a tattoo’

No they don’t. I don’t know who generates headlines like that but they are probably the same people who assume that Millennials happen to be one nationality (usually American). It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised to discover how much supposed research on ‘Millennials’ comes from such a small sample-base, is based on questionable surveying methods or comes from US media outlets (then copied worldwide via social media) discussing US Millennials as though their attitudes and behaviour are replicated the world over. They are not. All kinds of cultural, economic and political factors influence the way young people in different countries think and behave. It’s why, this time last year I insisted on completing The Rise of the Young Asian Traveller while based in Asia and the experience taught me more than 1,000 industry surveys could have done.

6. Millennials are not all happy-clappy hostellers

Many are, and that’s great. However I believe that the travel industry is best served when we look at the subtleties of The Rise of the Young Asian Travellerbehaviour by the masses, not by the few, and that means looking at how the bulk of Millennial travellers behave and not necessarily the fraction that are often the most visible to those who work in what is the youth travel industry in the strictest sense (hostels, adventure sports, youth tour operators…). There’s an irritating tendency (of which I have been guilty in the past) of assuming that all young travellers are just like us.

7. Time is precious. Time off even more-so.

In Europe we really have no idea how lucky we are. Sure, many people know that the average worker in the US gets 10 days’ vacation per year (and not all of those are taken) but what about those in the emerging economies of Asia and Latin America? In China, Korea and even Brazil, the idea of disappearing on a two-week break to Europe is still a distant dream for all but the most privileged families who have the money and therefore less pressure to work. In Chile, I have friends for whom it is normal to work six long days per week. Whatever the law says, young Koreans are lucky if they get five days’ holiday per year. A friend in Taiwan with a good, respectable office job gets seven days’ holiday per year. Mexicans work the longest hours of any OECD country and Brazilians tend to use their public holidays for sleeping off long working hours the rest of the year. Sometimes the reality is no time off due to the considerable pressure from management in many companies not to take any leave at all. None of this seems fair, but it is precisely the work ethic and long hours that make these countries the emerging markets that commentators in Europe love to write about so much.

When I lived in Spain it seemed that there was a public holiday roughly every two weeks. Sometimes there were holidays to recover from holidays. While some European countries have more holidays and festivals than others (and it’s part of their charm of course!), we are on the whole very lucky. This is also a fact that destinations and businesses in Europe will need to understand properly if they want to design the right products for young travellers with little time on their hands.

8. Travel is as stressful as you make it

When I did my training to become a tour director for a large US tour company that operated educational trips in Europe, one of the first things they said was that ‘you’re travelling, so things will go wrong’, so you do have to chill out and accept that. Even when it goes right, it’s not always pleasant. I completely understand why people find long-haul flights stressful and uncomfortable. It’s not normal for human beings to be sealed in a metal can for 7 hours or more and catapulted at over 500km per hour from one continent to another. However….

9. The advice on the travel websites really does work

For me, long-haul travel to 14 countries in 2014 confirmed the following essentials:
– Drink LOADS of water. After that first welcome drink, completely avoid alcohol and caffeine.
– Wear really comfortable clothes. With the lights off it’s OK to change into pyjamas and socks and try to sleep like at home.
– Select your seat in advance. Airport check-in these days is a lottery, so check websites like seatguru.com to avoid nasty surprises and you’ll know what you’re getting when you step on board.sg-logo-color
– Be extra nice to the crew. They are human beings too, and have a tough job. Besides, when you’re nice and polite you’ll be surprised what extra pillows and blankets and other hidden extras they can find.

10. Smartphone freedom

I’ve drafted contracts while on the train. I’ve paid my rent from the beach and had Skype meetings while at the airport. Wi-fi and mobile devices free us up from doing all those things while at a desk in an office. The question however, is how we really use the time that it frees up for us. Staring at your smartphone for hours on end can also mean hours of missed opportunities for learning, for laughs and even for love, as revealed in Gary Turk’s moving video ‘Look Up’ which I discovered in November this year.

And now for some personal touches…

11. The cheapest haircuts are the best

On a brief visit to Ho Chi Minh City in March, I got a haircut that cost 80,000 Vietnamese Dong (3 euros). It was the fastest and smartest haircut I’ve ever had. And the barber serenaded my friend and I with his guitar afterwards!

12. Running works

After many years of avoiding it, in 2014 I bought some running shoes and took to the running machine (and the park, and the seafront…). Testimonies from friends both online and offline persuaded me that running would help to shift the weight I’d wanted to deal with for so long, and it seems that they were right. Even just a brief jog aerates your lungs and most of all, gives you back a feeling of control over your mental and physical health. That’s priceless.

13. Travelling makes you talk to strangers, and that’s a good thing.

It sounds corny but gate agents, flight attendants, bus drivers and even random people in the street can all be nice people if you smile and talk to them. I don’t mean talking in a creepy way, but being British I sometimes feel I was born with an in-built aversion to talking to strangers. Travelling and needing to talk to strangers when you need help is a good way to overcome that.

14. Look up from what you are doing, stretch your neck and head and breathe.

A simple exercise that’s easy to forget, and one that really works.

Happy New Year to you all. Here’s to a happy, healthy and travel-filled 2015!

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